The technology world keeps wrestling with the "clock radio" question. This is the ever-changing attempt to figure out which devices can usefully be merged or combined, given the technology of the moment, and which ones still work best on their own.
It now seems obvious that bedside alarm clocks should come with radios or CD players built in. But it was not so obvious until both the clocks and the sound systems became small, cheap, and digitally controlled. The evolving design of cell phones combined with Palm- or BlackBerry-style PDAs reflects constant tension along this frontier, as companies struggle to devise something small and sleek enough to be an attractive cell phone yet big and stable enough to contain a workable keyboard.
Perhaps I just lack vision, but if asked ten years ago, I would never have guessed that one of the most promising hybrids at the start of the new century would arise from the union of the camera and the telephone. Yet there is very strong evidence that the camera phone will soon seem as natural a combination as the clock radio. It already constitutes a huge market success. Somewhere around 300 million camera phones were sold worldwide last year, mainly by Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, and the other familiar providers. For at least three years, camera phones have outsold "normal" digital cameras, and the gap is widening. "We're still just at the beginning of the process," says Marc Davis, the founding director of Yahoo Research Berkeley, a partnership between Yahoo and the University of California that has undertaken research on the uses and effects of camera phones. "It is like the Internet in 1995"—when wireless access, always-on connections, and quick-and-easy search systems were conceptually foreseeable but not yet familiar, everyday practices.